Culture War Politics Links

January 23, 2007

The Harris poll I quoted in the other post notes that Independents are pro-choice not only by a large margin, but also by a larger margin than Democrats. Republicans are 61-37 against Roe; Democrats are 55-43 for; Independents are 56-37 for. Democratic strategists should keep that in mind next time they ignore cultural issues in order to accommodate Evangelists.

Jessica links to an article about a town in Georgia whose mayor is forbidding a group of refugees to play soccer on the grounds that no sports but football and baseball should be allowed.

“There will be nothing but baseball and football down there as long as I am mayor,” Lee Swaney, a retired owner of a heating and air-conditioning business, told the local paper. “Those fields weren’t made for soccer.”

In Clarkston, soccer means something different than in most places. As many as half the residents are refugees from war-torn countries around the world. Placed by resettlement agencies in a once mostly white town, they receive 90 days of assistance from the government and then are left to fend for themselves. Soccer is their game.

But to many longtime residents, soccer is a sign of unwanted change, as unfamiliar and threatening as the hijabs worn by the Muslim women in town. It’s not football. It’s not baseball. The fields weren’t made for it. Mayor Swaney even has a name for the sort of folks who play the game: the soccer people.

It’s ironic how soccer, which in Europe symbolizes machoism and hooliganism, has come to symbolize multiculturalism in the US. It’s somewhat like the hijab, which has become a badge of solidarity to Muslim women in some Western countries, especially Britain, even though in the Middle East it symbolizes the patriarchy.

Ezra notes the fundamental dilemma in pro-choice political strategy: on the one hand, presenting abortion as a conflicted decision could win votes, but on the other, it could make the procedure more psychologically devastating.

Speaking of abortion in a sensitive and conflicted way is probably good politics, but I fear the impact on individuals. If we disingenuously hold that abortions are morally excruciating, and keep driving home the anguish all women should/must feel after having one, we risk causing further pain to women who’d otherwise find the removal of a clump of cells unproblematic, or do find the procedure unproblematic and but fret over their “callousness.” That’s possibly all right if your goal is to reduce the number of abortions, but if you don’t think individuals shouldn be tormented because a condom broke or a cycle of antibiotics interfered with the pill, it’s more worrisome.

Lindsay has a more clear cut view. Although a lot of people consider her (or my) “abortion is a normal medical procedure; get over it” view counterproductive, nobody’s ever produced any concrete evidence for that. There are plenty of heart-wrenching anecdotes about people who got convinced only by one form of argument, but nothing that any rational person would use as a basis for determining the best rhetorical avenue.

I am reminded of a moment at the YearlyKos convention in the late spring of last year. Alon Levy and I were at an abortion rights breakout session. Participants explained in turn why the chose to attend this session. Towards the end, a woman said in slightly accented English,

“I’m here because I don’t understand what the big deal is. Where I’m from, abortion is no big deal.”

The woman was from an Eastern European country, the Ukraine if I remember correctly. She was surprised when she came to America to find that abortion was such a huge public emotional fight.

Oddly, I don’t remember that part. I know who the woman she’s talking about is – there was only one Ukrainian at Yearly Kos that I know of – and I can envision her say that, but I don’t remember that she actually said it. What I do remember is that one woman said that she was agitating for a constitutional amendment to permit abortions, because “women will never be equal as long as Congress can pass laws stripping us of our bodily autonomy.”

Pam writes about standard issue hypocrisy among conservatives in Georgia. The Governor supports a gay marriage ban on populist grounds, but is refusing to allow a popular vote on state prohibition laws. About gay marriage, he said,

I think we need be very respectful of the people’s voice and listen to that.

About repealing blue laws, he said,

But you can’t do government really by referendum. And so, I don’t support that, and I don’t know whether it will pass the Legislature or not, but it’ll have a pretty tough time getting the last vote.


Age Matters

January 23, 2007

On a Feministing thread about an anti-abortion rally, a few commenters are trying to counter the idea that the relative youth of many anti-abortion activists is a source of concern for pro-choicers. The idea is that some people change their minds when they grow up, so the ideas that are prevalent among 19-year-olds aren’t going to become more prevalent in the future.

The evidence they cite is anecdotal. Colleen says, “It certainly doesn’t mean that they’ll stay pro-life.” The Law Fairy says, “I marched in a protest outside a Planned Parenthood once when I was sixteen… and look where I am now.”

On most issues, Americans get more liberal as they get younger. Pew breaks down polls about various social issues based on age. Americans in the 18-29 range are far more pro-gay and pro-health care than Americans in older brackets. Apart from abortion, the only exception is holding people in Guantanamo without charge, on which they’re as liberal as 65+ Americans and much more liberal than Americans in the 30-64 range.

A South Dakota-style abortion ban, which would turn the US from one of the most liberal countries on abortion to one of the most conservative ones, polls at 34-58. Among under-30 people it’s 35-58, whereas on gay rights they tend to be more liberal than the rest of the country by at least 10 percentage points.

Furthermore, while nationally 34% of abortion opponents say it’s a critical issue compared with 24% of proponents, in the 18-29 group it’s 45-31, higher in both absolute margin and in ratio.

This trend correlates with increasing opposition to abortion in the US. A Harris Interactive poll from 2006 found that supporters of Roe outnumbered opponents by 2 percentage points, the lowest since Harris started asking that question in 1973. In 1998, Roe polled at 57-41; in 2006, it was down to 49-47.

Attitudes toward abortion itself rather than toward Roe have changed more slowly. In 1993, 35% of respondents wanted to make it harder to get an abortion while 22% wanted to make it easier. By 1998, it was 40-16, and in 2006 it was 40-15.

So age does matter. It does matter that young Americans are far more opposed to abortion than they would be if abortion followed the same progressive dynamic as other social issues, like gay rights.


Bush and Civil Liberties

January 22, 2007

I got an email from the Democratic Party urging me to help Jim Webb craft a response to Bush’s State of the Union address. Unusually for me, I obliged, offering my two cents on Bush’s record on civil liberties. Needless to say, it’s weaker than it would’ve been without the constraint of not criticizing legislation like the Patriot Act, which the Democrats backed.

I wrote,

President Bush’s repeated attacks on our civil liberties are a grave concern. He has turned a blind eye to gross atrocities committed by American soldiers in Iraq. While Denmark responded to accusations of torture on the part of its troops by immediately recalling the base commander pending an investigation, Bush’s America contented itself with prosecuting a few enlisted men.

He has relied on fringe legal opinion in crafting a theory of a unitary executive, unbounded by any Congressional statute or Supreme Court ruling. Based on that theory, he ignored legislation requiring him to get warrants for wiretaps. That legislation is very lenient on the executive; while British counter-terrorism officers have to submit warrant requests to the same court regardless of whether the matter is terrorism or a petty crime, American ones can submit requests to a special FISA court, which only refuses a request in 3,600 and modifies one in a hundred. Despite that lenience, President Bush flouted the law and engaged in unsupervised, warrantless, unaccountable wiretapping.

His assault on civil liberties causes inmates in Guantanamo Bay to be held without charge and with barely if any access to legal counsel. Three days ago, the Attorney General appeared before Congress and said, “There is no express grant of habeas in the Constitution.” When called on that remark, he resorted to legal sophistry, saying that the Constitution “simply says the right of habeas corpus shall not be suspended.”

President Bush’s defenders will say that giving the detainees of Guantanamo rights is absurd, because in World War Two the Allies kept German prisoners of war interned until the war ended. But in World War Two, the US Armed Forces did not randomly kidnap German civilians. They did not send people to Germany where they would be tortured for draft evasion or defection; the repatriation of Soviet prisoners of war is widely considered a murderous mistake. Domestically, Roosevelt did not intern German-Americans or Italian-Americans except those who members of Nazi or Fascist organizations; the interning of Japanese-Americans is considered one of the darkest moments in American history, together with slavery and segregation.

The President has repeatedly shown contempt for Constitutionally protected freedoms. His administration has deported people to countries where it knew they would be tortured. It ignored FISA and the Geneva Conventions, and then dragooned Congress to pass legislation retroactively legalizing its actions. It has made a mockery of the writ of habeas corpus. The Bush administration has become the very definition of the phrase “weak on civil liberties.”


Dreadful Links

January 20, 2007

Just Dreadful is quickly becoming my favorite stop on the blogosphere, so it gets first few links of this edition.

Jenny expands on Dinesh D’Souza’s delineation of the difference between liberals and Islamists. In an interview on Townhall, D’Souza complains that although liberals are the “polar opposites” of Islamists, they don’t support killing large numbers of innocent people in order to destroy a regime that had nothing to do with Islamism. Jenny translates

So, one wants to impose its fundamentalist ideals on everyone, and the other wants to let people decide for themselves who to marry and when to have children.

(…)

So, even though the “cultural left” opposes fundamentalist extremism, they won’t get behind the invasion of a secular country that had nothing to do with 9-11? WTF? And as if that weren’t bad enough, they’re also against the erosion of our civil liberties, warantless wire-tapping, and other war-mongering activities!

Jessica notes that female athletes are paid horrendously little, anti-discrimination laws or no anti-discrimination laws. In the US, the situation got so bad that female soccer players went on strike. She explains,

We don’t hear much about female athletes, and if we hear anything about them at all, we only hear about tennis, golf, soccer, basketball and boxing. For the most part. Soccer is my thing, so that’s what’s up with all the soccer posts. What I say about soccer you can apply to almost any sport in which women compete (or try to compete) professionally. The US women’s national soccer team was one of the best in the world, yet becuase of a lack of funding, there is no longer a women’s major league (it used to be the WUSA). Yeah we can argue that Americans just don’t care about soccer, except for the fact that David Beckham is getting paid $1 million a week to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Women always do the least appreciated jobs. It goes both ways: jobs that become predominantly female, as secretarial work did early last century, become underappreciated, and jobs that are underappreciated can become predominantly female. Globally, soccer is very popular, so it’s reserved for men, but in the US men play baseball and football. Now that Americans start caring about soccer, as seen in the Beckham situation, it’s likely American female soccer players will get shafted even more.

Jessica also rants about parents who want to genetically ensure their children are disabled. CNN quotes Slate as saying, “Old fear: designer babies. New fear: deformer babies.”

Ok, so parents want thier kid to look like them and be able to relate to them, but do they realize what the hell they are doing? As kids, they (the parents) probably had to endure teasing, feeling out of place, ect. And now they want to force that on thier child? I don’t know about you, but if I grew up constantly feeling out of place and being taunted and came to find out that my parents were responsable for all of that, I would be pretty damn pissed.

My own take on it is that disability isn’t race. It’s not something to be normalized; it’s a medical condition to be fought. Parents who overdose on identity politics and deliberately cripple their children are no different from parents who overdose on religion and chain their children to their bed until they repent.

Moving on to other blogs, Stentor quotes an ABA article on the problems ex-convicts face in the US.

There’s a nice — albeit too short — article (“Run-on Sentences”) about “collateral consequences” of being convicted (or sometimes just charged) with a crime.

By and large, people with felony convictions are banned from enlisting in the U.S. military. Fifteen states bar convicted drug offenders from recieving welfare or food stamps. In various states, people with convictions are excluded from public housing, barred from recieving educational loans, and denied driver’s licenses. In New York, for instance, a man who had learned to cut hair in prison was denied a barber’s license when he got out.

(…)

What’s more, if you’re one of those crazy people who think that the goal of the criminal justice system should be to reduce crime, these “collateral consequences” make no sense. It’s absurd to hold a strict “personality trait” theory of crime (that crime is solely the result of the perpetrator’s internal dispositions). Yet any theory that allows for situational influences would have to admit that taking away opportunities for a person to become better integrated into, and invested in, society will tend to increase crime.

Ann writes about maternity centers, where conservatives send unmarried women who get pregnant to give birth, give up the baby forever, and return to normal society.

So you know how, in the pre-Roe years, young women who found themselves with unwanted pregnancies were often sent away by their parents to deliver their babies in maternity homes?

Well, these homes still exist. And on Tuesday, three pregnant teens staged a jailbreak from the New Hope Maternity Center in rural Utah. They hit the director of the home with a frying pan, tied him up with electrical cords, and made off in a stolen van. Whoa. I know they’re “troubled teens,” and I’m not trying to justify their violent behavior, but things must have been pretty bad for them to resort to these tactics.

Jason Rosenhouse of EvolutionBlog is looking for math blogs. Many of the blogs listed appeared in my old “Where are all the math blogs?” post, but some don’t – Growth Rate n lg n, The n-Category Café, Recursivity, and Antopology, in particular.

Shnakepup, who was kind enough to whore my blog on EvolutionBlog, has a good post about Weinberg’s review of Dawkins’ book. The bone of contention is that Weinberg said scientists should be allowed to comment on philosophy and religion, and John Lynch said it was no better than theologians’ commenting on science. Says Shnakepup,

I’d like John to explain to me exactly how scientific expertise is qualitatively equal to non-scientific expertise.

In order for this to be true, one must assume that all forms of expertise are equal. Would my expertise in, say, the union attendance contracts at my job be qualitatively equal to, say, PZ’s Ph.D. in Biology? I would hope not.

Speaking of Growth Rate n lg n, Tyler assails the traditional American method of teaching math, which is very atomistic with classes specializing in algebra, geometry, trigonometry, etc.

The way mathematical concepts are communicated is fundamentally hierarchical. We teach it in a way that gives the impression that you have subjects with a successive level of difficulty. You start with arithmetic, move up to elementary algebra, then to geometry, then to more advanced algebraic concepts. Then the smarter kids who specialize in math move on to super advanced subjects like trigonometry, calculus and statistics. The kicker is this: I think this hierarchical communication of math is bad idea, and we should find a better way to do it.

The first problem with the hierarchy implicit in the method I described above is that it is entirely mythical. It is actually counter-intuitive to non-math students when I say that, overall, I find proofs in calculus and analytic geometry to be far easier than proofs in abstract algebra, which in turn I find overall a bit easier than problems in combinatorial logic (when they have any idea what the latter is). These misconceptions exist because math concepts were taught to them in a way conveyed the idea that algebra was an intermediate step between common arithmetic and advanced concepts like calculus and statistics. They would be highly surprised to learn that many of the problems in higher arithmetic are enough of a pain in the ass to make abstract algebra look like child’s play. Consider the quandary presented by Fermat’s last theorem:

Lindsay explains why she has absolutely no problem with Pelosi’s embrace of motherhood politics: politicians always project an image to help themselves get elected and stay popular.

On a gut level, I’m not crazy about the mommy schtick. Yet, as a feminist and a partisan Democrat, I’m not going to complain. As Amanda argued several week ago, Nancy Pelosi’s in-your-face parenthood seems to be reaching a lot of women who might otherwise feel alienated by Democrats.

Electoral politics is about symbolism, not syllogism. It’s like the Village People. Everyone needs a character.

Gordo writes about the United States’ gloriously anti-authoritarian Attorney General:

I wasn’t going to post anything this weekend, because my friend’s computer is difficult for me to work with, and because I don’t have much online time while I’m here in Portland, but I just have to comment on this video of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ testimony. In it, Gonzales says that the Constitution doesn’t guarantee the right of habeas corpus to individual Americans.

That’s the right the right to demand that the government present evidence before locking you up.

If you’re not reading Appletree, you don’t know what you’re missing. Even though Gordo’s not posting that much lately, the discussion threads there tend to be livelier than here. There’s even a very thoughtful conservative regular, Dana of Common Sense Political Thought.


Friday/Saturday Headlines

January 20, 2007

Crossposted on Appletree, hence the relative paucity of snark:

Study on Nicotine Levels Stirs Calls for New Controls

A Harvard study concluding that cigarette makers have for years deliberately increased nicotine levels in cigarettes to make them more addictive led to renewed calls Thursday for greater federal oversight of the industry.

“Given the harm that tobacco causes, it shouldn’t be a game of cat-and-mouse to figure out what the industry is doing to cigarettes,” said Dr. Josh Sharfstein, commissioner of health for the City of Baltimore.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat who is now chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, promised to reintroduce within weeks a bill that would allow the Food and Drug Administration to regulate cigarettes.

North Korea Reports Progress In Talks With U.S. Envoy

North Korea said Friday that progress had been made during talks with the United States this week on its nuclear program, and the top U.S. nuclear envoy suggested the foundation had been laid for more progress when six-nation nuclear negotiations resume.

North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said three days of talks in Berlin between U.S. envoy Christopher R. Hill and North Korea’s main nuclear negotiator, Kim Gye Gwan, had been held “in a positive and sincere atmosphere and a certain agreement was reached there.” No further details were given.

This makes it – what – the four hundredth such negotiation? I’m not sure who’s being more irrational here – North Korea, which keeps spending whatever money it has on the military instead of on making sure people stop starving, or the US, which keeps botching negotiations with North Korea. -Alon.

A Downside to Heralded HPV Drug: Cost, Access

Abington pediatrician Steven Shapiro thinks the new vaccine against cervical cancer is a major medical advance that will benefit all of society.

Even so, he isn’t offering Gardasil to his patients. He says insurance reimbursements don’t cover his costs to buy, store and administer it.

“I’m in practice with four physicians and we simply can’t afford it,” said Shapiro, who also chairs the pediatrics department at Abington Memorial Hospital.

Seven months after the federal government approved Merck & Co. Inc.’s much-heralded immunization for females ages 9 to 26, Gardasil can be difficult for patients to get.

By all accounts, the vaccine could eventually save thousands of lives and billions of dollars annually in this country. But right now, it is a case study in the ragged economics of U.S. health care.

Outspoken Armenian editor shot dead in Istanbul street attack

A journalist who was a prominent member of Turkey’s Armenian community was murdered in Istanbul yesterday in an attack that the prime minister described as an attempt to destabilise the country.

Hrant Dink, 53, a Turkish citizen of Armenian descent, was shot from behind a number of times at the entrance of Agos, the bilingual Turkish-Armenian weekly newspaper that he edited. Television footage showed his body lying face down, draped in a white sheet, on the pavement in front of the office.

(…)

Dink had gone on trial numerous times for speaking out about the mass killings of Armenians by Turks. He had received threats from nationalists who viewed him as a traitor. He was a public figure in Turkey and, as the editor of Agos, one of its most prominent Armenian voices.

Key Aide To Sadr Arrested In Baghdad

U.S.-backed Iraqi forces arrested a top aide to anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in eastern Baghdad on Friday, amid growing signs of stepped-up efforts to quell Sadr and his supporters.

(…)

Nadawi said “the occupation forces are provoking Sadr . . . by these daily operations or every-other-day operations.” The spokesman added that the cleric’s followers “are the only ones demanding and putting a timetable for the occupation withdrawal.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has been pressured by the Bush administration to bring the Mahdi Army and other Shiite militias under control, was not forewarned about the arrest, said Ali Dabbagh, a spokesman for Maliki. Dabbagh said the prime minister was not notified about every impending high-profile arrest.

Privacy Law “Has No Teeth”: Watchdog

Canadian consumers should be “outraged” that a major retailer has been collecting and storing information about their credit and debit card transactions, a leading consumer lobby group says.

Chavez: Castro “Fighting for His Life,” Progressing Slowly

Cuban leader Fidel Castro is “fighting for his life,” Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said in a speech to the state legislature in Rio de Janeiro.

Chavez, who said he spoke to Castro a few days ago by telephone, compared Castro’s battle against a serious intestinal illness with the Cuban leader’s time in the island’s mountains heading the revolution against the Fulgencio Batista government.

“Fidel is again in the Sierra Maestra again,” Chavez said Friday. “He’s fighting for his life. We don’t know; we want him to recover, and he continues progressing, although slowly.”

Maybe after Castro dies, Chavez can take over Cuba, where he won’t have to pretend he’s a democratic leader. -Alon.


Wednesday Afternoon Links

January 17, 2007

I may have a regular stint on Appletree now, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to scoop Gordo’s link days.

Tyler’s latest information theory post, concerning description methods, is up.

Mark CC lashes into a moonbat who complains that math is a reactionary subject because it’s only useful for designing weapons systems. I like Mark’s take on it – “math is.” But even the underlying political point that math has no progressive uses, is idiotic. You can use game theory to plan a war, or a general strike. You can use number theory to spy on citizens, or construct ciphers.

Hat-tip to Lindsay: Candace Gorman, a lawyer representing two Guantánamo Bay detainees pro bono, has a blog. Gorman writes about, among other things, a letter she sent the Assistant Secretary of Defense who tried undercutting lawyers who defend Guantánamo detainees, and an interview she gave to The Talking Dog.

Vanessa Gatsch writes about Children of Men, explaining how it relates to stereotypes about pregnancy. She notes, “When you’re pregnant, everyone wants to pretty much control everything you do. People won’t let you get up, get nosy about what you’re eating, and want to touch and coo at you. When you’ve finally had the baby everyone wants to stare and touch and ask nosy questions.”

Jim notes that the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Society is moving its Doomsday clock two minutes closer to midnight, on account of the total lack of progress on nuclear disarmament. For some reason, there’s no mention of the Israel/Iran situation, involving one more nuclear power in the world, and an existing nuclear power that’s threatening to use its arsenal.


Monday Evening Links

January 15, 2007

Mark Chu-Carroll is posting about the basics of mathematics, focusing on popular use of statistics. His first post is about the mean, median, and mode; his second is about the normal distribution.

Tyler’s second basics post, which tackles algorithms and data structures, is also up.

Femalebug links to a YouTube video that shows just how intelligent Americans are. Buddhist monks are Muslim, triangles have four sides, Star Wars is based on a true story, Germany is part of the Axis of Evil, Fidel Castro is a singer, and Iraq is part the Coalition of the Willing.

Pam has a non-cheesy MLK Day post, which traces the pro-SSM views of many of MLK’s associates. In most respects, SSM is today’s equivalent of the struggle for desegregation of the 1950s and 60s.

As usual, Lindsay makes sense on the issues of the day. This time it’s about Edwards’ speech at the Riverside Church, in which he said he now regrets his vote for the war on Iraq and “takes full responsibility,” whatever that means. Lindsay notes,

What really matters is whether a candidate has identified the weaknesses that contributed to their own catastrophic error and worked to correct them.

I want to believe that Edwards has changed since he voted for the war, but I need to here a more substantive answer about why and how.


Speaking Contrarianism to Power on Immigration

January 14, 2007

Jim talks briefly about Heather MacDonald, a conservative who he praises for being rational on account of her atheism. But when I checked her views out, I found out she’s anything but rational. She’s an atheist for sure, but she’s a racist, immigrant-hating one, who goes out of her way to deny racism and deny immigrants rights.

First, in an interview on Gene Expressions, she trots out the usual cultural excuses for poverty:

Given that the liberal elites have ignored the 70% black out-of-wedlock birth rate for decades in discussing the causes of black poverty, I am confident that open borders conservatives will prove just as capable of ignoring the 48% Hispanic out-of-wedlock birth rate as they perpetuate the myth of redemptive Hispanic family values.

While out-of-wedlock births are offensive to conservative moralists who would rather everyone adhered to their Victorian values, they’re not a social problem by themselves. A conservative blog notes that in the US at large, over 30% of births are out of wedlock now, up from 5% in 1960. At the same time, the poverty rate in 2000 was barely over 11%, the lowest since the trough of the early 1970s.

In Sweden and Norway, the majority of births are out of wedlock, but the poverty rates are 6.5% and 6.4% respectively. Furthermore, in Norway the bottom decile has the same mean income as the bottom quintile in the US and the second decile has twice as much income.

In other words, it’s not that out-of-wedlock birthrates are a social problem; it’s that conservatives pretend that they are so that they’ll have an excuse for bashing people who have the wrong skin color.

MacDonald’s views on immigration are even worse. GNXP calls her “a realist on immigration reform”; based on the article it’s linking to, I’d say “an ignoramus who should’ve majored in pol sci rather than lit crit” is a better description.

The entire article is based on the flawed premise that any kind of border control can curb immigration. The only support she ever gives to that view is a bad analogy to crime control. But let’s suppose for a moment that New York’s crime rate started plummeting only after Giuliani came to power rather than three years before. How is that relevant to the research that shows border controls only increase the rate of illegal immigration?

That little premise is what shatters the entire corpus of anti-immigration politics. Laws, its practitioners say, must be enforced. Never mind that it’s impossible to enforce them; they have to be enforced nonetheless. But in the real world, murder isn’t illegal because it’s bad, but because making it illegal makes it less likely to occur.

Worse, MacDonald tries throwing sand in people’s eyes by pontificating in length about “the elites.” The precursor to my radical pathologies series, Mark Rosenfelder’s Left = Right, notes how both sides claim to speak for the people and against some amorphous elite. It didn’t make my series only because it’s not specifically radical.

Here MacDonald tries to claim to speak for the common American who’s oppressed by rootless cosmopolitans. In fact, 57% of American voters say illegal immigrants should be offered legal status. In California, it’s 64%; in Arizona, 56%; in New Mexico, 63%; and in Texas, 59%. It seems that the further an American is from where he might know illegal immigrants, the likelier he is to support deportion. If that’s not an elite trying to infringe on local control, I don’t know what is.

Instead of MacDonald’s unenforceable principles, I prefer to use the following principles when formulating immigration policy, and by extension policy on other issues:

1. Laws that cannot be realistically enforced don’t belong on the books. It’s a specification of the more general libertarian idea that any law that can’t be universally enforced will be selectively enforced. It’s impossible to make a dent in illegal immigration; however, it is possible to deport those illegal immigrants who a Minuteman hates personally. Laws rarely get more immoral than that.

2. Civil rights, including the unrestricted right to freedom of movement, should be paramount. With the exception of reasonable public policies on matters such as health and education, negative rights always precede positive rights. MacDonald’s right to publish articles trumps my right not to be subjected to racist trash; a Mexican’s right to live in the US trumps MacDonald’s right to live in a minority-free country.

3. Economic costs and benefits should be investigated impartially. One paper I’ve seen concludes that the net cost of illegal immigration to each American household is 0.1% of GDP. Studies rigged by anti-immigration advocates don’t get much higher than that. Considering that the net cost of private health care to each American household is on the order of 8% of GDP, I reserve the right not to care about a 0.1% shift, especially given principle #2.

4. Cultural policies should be made with the intent to promote integration and equality of opportunity. This does not mean the state should try to force people to integrate, which tends to only cause them to integrate less. The US is doing fairly well on integration, with virtually all immigrants’ American-born children speaking English fluently, but on social mobility and equal opportunities, it performs worse than almost every other developed country, even when one looks only at white Americans.

These principles don’t generally leave much leeway to xenophobia, but that’s only an indication that xenophobia isn’t good policy.


Sunday Evening Links

January 14, 2007

Tyler DiPietro has his first post in a series of several explaining his field to the lay reader. The first post is about information theory and compressibility, and explains the ideas in somewhat more technical terms than Mark Chu-Carroll did when he started Good Math, Bad Math.

Lindsay comments on the story of the substitute teacher who is facing a sentence of up to 40 years because some spyware on her computer ended up displaying porn to her class. Apparently, her counsel is so incompetent s/he can’t raise that as at least a reasonable doubt defense to the charge that she displayed the porn on purpose.

Belledame writes about how cultlike movements exert psychological control over followers. She gives warning signs that actually discriminate between control and lack thereof, as opposed to those that fail to distinguish assertiveness from abuse.

Jim notes that Bush’s speech failed to include religious references; commenter Mtully then explains how leaders consistently invoke God only when they’re on the rise, but instead blame defeats on human failures.

PZ reproduces an old post about the evolution of the vulva. The vagina as an organ is unique to non-monotreme mammals, which means it only evolved about 150 million years ago. In other words, Sarah Silverman’s story about the birds and the bees is biologically inaccurate.


The New Liberal Mold

January 14, 2007

Brent has a post prefacing his position on gun control with a detailed explanation of how he’s by and large a social liberal.

This strawman is generally an effete, tree-hugging environmentalist who is a current member of P.E.T.A., a card-carrying ACLU member, someone who favors gun control, and persecutes good, wholesome Christian folks for kicks.

Forgive me if I don’t recognize this person.

I am a liberal in the sense that I agree with and favor progressive political positions. I think that gay folks deserve to marry each other, that abortions should be at the woman who happens to be carrying the baby’s choice, and that church and state should be kept completely and utterly separate.

Labor liberals tend to deride an alliance with people who are motivated by cultural liberalism as an “elite consensus” that nobody outside the editorial pages of the Washington Post would support. That derision would come as a surprise to Russ Feingold, who is by far the most socially liberal person in the Senate but is a deficit hawk and voted for welfare reform.

American politicos have written a lot about how Democrats won 28% of the white Evangelical vote in 2006. But they also won 74% of the non-religious vote. In 2006, 11% of the voters were non-religious, even though polls show that about 15-16% of Americans are not religious; this despite the fact that non-religious people tend to have above average levels of education, which correlate with higher voter turnout.

Now, Brent and DarkSyde and Jim and Rick and Hank Fox aren’t natural liberals, at least not on non-cultural issues. DarkSyde was a Reaganite, and I think so was Brent. As I noted on UTI a few months ago, I was the only frontpager who was a traditional liberal; the other posters are better described as radical centrists. The culturally liberal radical centrists are now firmly in the Democratic column, but that’s mostly the result of Bush’s wanton incompetence, not to mention radicalism.

You don’t need to be a particularly astute observer to realize that the old American liberal mold has been crumbling for 10-15 years. The question is just what to replace it with. There are several alternatives; the one that’s gaining the most credence is the left-wing Dominionist one, which revels in ignoring social issues and having no foreign policy, and instead focusing on extravagant anti-poverty programs buttressed by even more extravagant rhetoric.

And contrary to what people routinely insinuate on Pam’s House Blend, that political tactic may actually succeed. There’s no particular reason minorities and labor liberals have to ally themselves with the radical centrists and the cosmopolitan types*. Left-wing Evangelists are just as big a bloc of voters, and one that is getting increasingly alienated with James Dobson. There’s no deep strategic reason for the economic left to give a damn about reproductive rights or civil liberties.

The problem is that labor liberals don’t seem like they really want that. A big chunk of them does in fact give a damn about reproductive rights. They just think inviting Jim Wallis and Amy Sullivan into their party won’t require them to ditch every liberal platform plank that isn’t about poverty or the environment.

The opposite alliance, concentrating on pro-choice groups, urban liberals, and libertarians who vote based on civil liberties rather than taxes can work just as well. It got Feingold to where he is now, and I’m still convinced it will get him to the White House if he changes his mind on 2008.

* Yes, “cosmopolitan” is in fact a euphemism for “gay,” “atheist,” and “Jewish.”


Signing Statements are Back in Vogue

January 6, 2007

Hat-tip to Gordo: Bush is using a signing statement to ignore a recently passed law that codifies the privacy of the mail.

The law requires government agents to get warrants to open first-class letters.

But when he signed the postal reform act, Bush added a statement saying that his administration would construe that provision “in a manner consistent, to the maximum extent permissible, with the need to conduct searches in exigent circumstances.”

As in many other cases, the signing statement contains a weasel term that supposedly covers Bush’s ass. The maximum permissible extent was established in the law Congress had just passed: it’s illegal for the US government to read people’s mail without a warrant.

Phrases like “the maximum extent permissible” give the impression that the law is just an inconvenience to be surmounted. A few constitutionalists believe something like that, with “permissible” defined only constitutionally; however, there is no serious constitutionalist argument for the Patriot Act(s) and Homeland Security Bill.


The Value of Democracy

January 4, 2007

Once in a while, someone in the West speaks contrarianism to power and suggests democracy isn’t a good idea. Usually the alternative peddled is some conservative form of authoritarianism, like the supposed benevolent dictatorship of Singapore or Malaysia.

Of course, in Russia and East Asia it’s not contrarian at all, but mainstream and destructive; but the Western form of opposition to democracy is wholly contrarian.

First, economic development isn’t something dictatorships have a monopoly on. China’s growing at 9% per year, but so is India. And while India has a much larger number of people who are food insecure, it’s never had a famine since independence, while China had the artificial Great Leap Forward, in which 20-30 million people starved. As Amartya Sen has observed, no independent democracy with a free press has ever had a famine.

Second, democracies are just less corrupt than non-democracies. Singapore is supposedly an exception, but the index it performs well on is popular perception of corruption. Indeed, the Singaporean people don’t think their government is corrupt. Why would they? It’s not as if the state-controlled press lets the people know that the government won’t divulge where it invests their pension funds.

And third, usually non-Western dictators and their post-colonialist apologists in the West tend to frame the discussion in terms of values. Lee Kuan Yew says that Asian values dictate that Singapore’s 4 million people are his property. But in reality, as one observer noted,

As formulated by its prime exponent, Senior Minister Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore, Asian values or “Asian governance” ideology holds that Asians, like good Confucians, value order over change, hierarchy over equality, and cooperation and mutual respect over conflict between the elite and the masses. Moreover, Asians have their own forms of governance that do not have the Western emphasis on individual rights, electoral competition, the free press, free assembly, and checks and balances. Let me just say that when I first came across Lee’s list of supposed Asian values, I saw values that were not so much specific to Asian culture but good British, upper-class Tory values dear to threatened elites everywhere. It was not without good reason that one British cabinet minister once referred to Lee, when he was still known as Harry Lee, as the “best bloody Englishman East of Suez.”


Wednesday Night Links, V. 2

January 3, 2007

(Note to Gordo: I swear I’m not trying to undercut you)

Via Winds of Change: Callimachus writes a superb post documenting the rank uselessness of the CIA. While the anti-CIA arguments I’m most familiar with come from the far left and concentrate on its atrocities in Latin America, Callimachus does a better job by focusing on its failure as an intelligence agency.

Illegal domestic spying? The CIA had been at it for decades. It’s no coincidence that most of the Watergate burglars had ties to the CIA. The agency’s 1963 manual on interrogation and the 1980s coercive techniques manual are enlightening reading for people who think this sort of thing only happens when George W. Bush is president. The latter publication’s problems were compounded by poor translation for use in Central America, where the English “neutralize” unintentionally acquired a darker sense when rendered in Spanish.(…)

The agency, using expensive, super-secret spy satellites, never could get a viable picture of Soviet military activity. Meanwhile a Defense Intelligence Agency executive named William Lee cobbled together a workable model of the Soviet military economy by augmenting the meager secret sources with perfectly unclassified books, periodicals, government documents, and newspaper clippings. After the end of the Cold War, Soviet documents affirmed the accuracy of Lee’s estimate of the Soviet military burden (about 28 percent of the USSR’s GDP in 1988) over the CIA’s (about 14 percent).

That the CIA has been engaging in domestic spying and torture for decades is the main reason I wasn’t outraged when Congress voted to retroactively legalize the abuses of Guantánamo Bay. Why should I be outraged at something that’s been standard operating procedure since the early days of the Cold War? It’s like being outraged at the shocking discovery that people get robbed.

In other news, Liz Funk wrote an exceedingly dumb article about bars that attract young women in order to boost their image among older men. The article’s bad writing, the wrong arguments about rape, the anti-feminist shibboleths, and the author’s anti-feminist history have caused the feminist blogosphere to rain torrential criticism on Funk. As usual, the one who makes sense the most is Lindsay, who manages to extract some discussion-worthy argument from the junk.

Contriving to get one subset of the clientele completely wasted isn’t in the best interests of customers or the neighborhood. People who live in club-filled New York neighborhood of Chelsea are sick of people puking on their steps because clubs keep serving wasted kids for sport.

I don’t see any problem with reasonable alcohol promotions intended to attract certain types of otherwise legal customers. (IMO, the federal laws should be changed to put 18-year-olds in the the legal drinker category, but until then, laws should be upheld in a gender-neutral fashion.)

(…)

This is big business, and club owners aren’t giving young girls free drinks out of the goodness of their hearts. So, allowing owners to flout the law in pursuit of underage female customers sends an ugly message: Male amusement is more important than public safety.

The only non-creepy thing I can say about this is that the bars I’ve gone to would’ve given me a drink if I’d asked for one. That said, although I think it’s good that puritan age limits are not enforced in New York, selective enforcement is worse than both no enforcement and universal enforcement.

Ann notes that anti-choicers are turning to infighting between the more extreme faction that harasses women and argues with ten times enlarged pictures of 18-week-old fetuses, and the more moderate faction that couches its position in pro-woman rhetoric.

And while we’re back to talking about South Dakota, it’s worth mentioning this item from the Christian press in which prominent anti-choicer Leslee Unruh admits that during the campaign she faced more harassment from hardline “pro-lifers” than from pro-choicers.

“When you’re running a pro-life campaign the last thing you need is pro-lifers who have a different strategy and won’t respect the people in the state,” Unruh said.”The pro-life community can’t continue to do this,” she added. “When someone works as hard as I have for 22 years, the outside pro-lifers coming in and bringing trucks and (bringing) anger and hate—that affects the community.”


An Approach to Prohibition

January 2, 2007

One of the things that motivates prohibition of alcohol, drugs, speeding, and similar behavioral issues is public health, as well as crime. It costs money to rehabilitate addicts, speeding kills, and many violent crimes are committed while under the influence.

In most cases, there’s a solution to the problem. The source is the German speed limit law; although in Germany there’s no speed limit on autobahns, driving over the advisory limit of 130 km/h results in partial liability for damages caused in case there’s an accident.

Imitating that, it’s possible to rule, for instance, that alcohol, marijuana, and hashish may be legally consumed by people over 14, but a) being under the influence is not a defense or a mitigating circumstance to a crime unless the perpetrator was drugged without his knowledge or consent, and b) any juvenile committing a crime while under the influence is to be tried as an adult.

Since part b) may be too onerous in some cases, it might make sense to have a limit to what counts as “under the influence,” just as with maximum permissible blood alcohol levels while driving. For example, anything over 0.05 might be considered as under the influence for crime purposes, and anything over 0 could be considered as under the influence for traffic accident liability purposes.

With drugs it’s harder to have hard limits, since it’s a lot harder to test for pot than for booze, but a reasonable behavioral standard – “he looks stoned” – could be a substitute for blood alcohol levels.


Gay Rights News

January 2, 2007

Two separate gay rights-themed links from the latest addition to my blogroll, Pam’s House Blend:

John Shalikashvili, who was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs back when the US military enacted Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, has changed his position to letting gays openly serve in the military. In an op-ed in the New York Times, he wrote,

When I was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I supported the current policy because I believed that implementing a change in the rules at that time would have been too burdensome for our troops and commanders. I still believe that to have been true. The concern among many in the military was that given the longstanding view that homosexuality was incompatible with service, letting people who were openly gay serve would lower morale, harm recruitment and undermine unit cohesion.

(…)

Last year I held a number of meetings with gay soldiers and marines, including some with combat experience in Iraq, and an openly gay senior sailor who was serving effectively as a member of a nuclear submarine crew. These conversations showed me just how much the military has changed, and that gays and lesbians can be accepted by their peers.

This perception is supported by a new Zogby poll of more than 500 service members returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, three quarters of whom said they were comfortable interacting with gay people. And 24 foreign nations, including Israel, Britain and other allies in the fight against terrorism, let gays serve openly, with none reporting morale or recruitment problems.

I now believe that if gay men and lesbians served openly in the United States military, they would not undermine the efficacy of the armed forces. Our military has been stretched thin by our deployments in the Middle East, and we must welcome the service of any American who is willing and able to do the job.

Some of Pam’s commenters complain that Shalikashvili’s calls for concentrating on other problems first and only then repealing DADAT reek of excessive moderation of the type Martin Luther King attacked in his Letter from Birmingham Jail. But what was true in 1963 wasn’t necessarily true in 1952.

MLK-style direct action works only after many people have recognized that the problem exists; that even centrists like Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani support letting gays serve openly suggests that the first stage of social justice activism, that analogous to NAACP litigation, is proceeding quickly. Only when enough people recognize the problem, which is still not the case, will the second stage, that analogous to MLK-style activism, become feasible.

Meanwhile, In Massachusetts, the state legislature voted to put a gay marriage ban to a popular vote, then voted to reconsider, and then voted to put it on the ballot again. The State House Speaker explained,

Today a minority of legislators voted to advance a proposal that takes away the civil rights those couples are guaranteed to under our constitution. This initiative petition is offensive and deplorable.

The measure passed 62-134 in the final vote; only 50 votes were needed to pass, since the vote would only declare a referendum on the issue. An old poll from 2003 says that residents of Massachusetts support gay marriage 59-35, while lesbianlife.about.com mentions a poll from 2005 saying that 62% of the people in Massachusetts support SSM.

I don’t normally support voting on people’s rights, but when I know beforehand the result will be positive, I think it’s politically beneficial. One of the main arguments of anti-SSM people has been that it’s the people’s will to discriminate against gays and lesbians; every electoral and legislative success reduces their ability to make this appeal. Although Massachusetts is just one state, it’s likely that the vote will normalize SSM among Americans outside the state, just like court rulings do.


Police Brutality: Not Only in New York

January 2, 2007

Hat-tip to Lindsay: the seven New Orleans cops who shot at apparently unarmed civilians on Danziger Bridge have been charged with multiple counts of murder and attempted murder. Police brutality may extend beyond City coundaries, but letting it go unpunished still doesn’t.

[Link] Seven policemen charged in a deadly shooting in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina turned themselves in Tuesday at the city jail, where more than 200 supporters greeted them in a show of solidarity.

Each of the indicted men faces at least one charge of murder or attempted murder in the Sept. 4, 2005, shootings on the Danziger Bridge less than a week after the hurricane hit New Orleans. Two people died and four people were wounded.

The defense attorneys insist that their clients are innocent, and the official police line is that they “were responding to a report of other officers down, and that they thought one of the men, Ronald Madison, was reaching for a gun.” Even if the police is right, it’s manslaughter. I’m fairly certain that if the district attorney had first sought a manslaughter conviction, the police would insist it was not a crime by a reasonable person standard.

But it’s not at all clear the police’s story is true.

[Link] A teenager critically wounded that day, speaking about the incident for the first time, said in an interview that police shot him for no reason, delivering a final bullet at point-blank range with what he thought was an assault rifle. Members of another family said one of those killed was mentally disabled, a childlike innocent who made a rare foray from home in a desperate effort to find relief from the flood.

In New York, cops empty tens of bullets into innocent civilians. In New Orleans, they prefer quality to quantity, so they get up close and shoot civilians at point-blank range instead.


Democrats Draft Pro-Immigration Bill

December 27, 2006

Hat-tip to Gordo: Democrats and moderate Republicans want to draft a new immigration bill that will give illegal immigrants a path to citizenship and defund the proposed fence along the US-Mexico border.

The lawmakers are considering abandoning a requirement in the Senate bill that would compel several million illegal immigrants to leave the U.S. to become eligible to apply for citizenship. The lawmakers are also considering denying financing for 700 miles of fencing along the U.S. border with Mexico that was authorized in a law, written by Republicans, which passed this year.

The greatest irony here is that since illegal immigration is a race issue important to many Hispanic voters, while legal immigration is mostly seen as a denial of the upper middle class’s inalienable right to employment, it’ll be easier to get citizenship as an illegal than as a legal immigrant.

Right now, a legal immigrant to the US typically starts as a college student, then gets a graduate or professional degree, and then gets an H1-B visa, from which position he can apply for a green card. Lately the green card application backlog is so long that some people have to leave the US for a while since H1-B visas only last for 6 years after renewal. In other words, a legal immigrant takes about 15 years just to get a green card.

Unfortunately, legal immigrants don’t have a powerful lobby. On the contrary, disgruntled American computer programmers have a vested interest in keeping legal immigrants out. This despite the fact that evidence from Canada, which has a somewhat saner immigration policy, suggests that the group that integrates the most slowly is refugees, while economic immigrants integrate quickly.


Civil Unions in New Jersey

December 21, 2006

New Jersey’s Governor signed into law the bill to legalize civil unions in the state, passed in wake of a court decision requiring the legislature to do so. This is only a partial victory for reasons Pam discussed when the legislature passed the bill – for example, civil unions only confer state-level rights but not federal rights.

However, this partial victory is enough to showcase that progressive activism can succeed. While the reformist attitude toward change centers on fixing what everyone knows is broken and on electoral and legislative methods, the progressive attitude centers on social and legal action.

The Massachusetts decision in 2003 triggered a short backlash against gay marriage. The New Jersey decision three years later, in which the dissenters argued for full gay marriage, didn’t help the Republican Party hold its Congressional majority in an election less than two weeks later.

As even the states that did ban gay marriage after the Massachusetts decision never recognized single-sex relationships in the first place, these rulings were all gain, no pain for gay rights activists. While Democrats insist on not taking action on any issue that polls less than 70% – higher than civil unions, which are at 60% – liberals keep prodding, increasing their issues’ support on the way. New Jersey’s new status as the largest state in the US that permits civil unions is a direct result of that activism.


Racial Bias in Sentencing

December 21, 2006

When I made my first post about Genarlow Wilson, who was given a ten year sentence at 17 for receiving a consensual blowjob from a 15-year-old girl, I just wrote about the outrageousness of puritanical sodomy laws. In fact, there’s another angle: Wilson was black, as were both girls involved.

Responding to allegations of racism in sentencing, Eugene Volokh said (hat-tip to Gordo, as usual),

[Link] The girls with whom Wilson had sex — the alleged rape victim, and the 15-year-old whom the oral sodomy age-of-consent is supposed to be protecting — are black, too. (See this story.) As the article paraphrases the prosecutor’s view, “Had he not pursued charges against the boys, his critics could have just as easily chastised him for failing to protect the rights of the two black females. ‘I’m standing up for African-American victims in this case, as I would for any white victim,’ says [the prosecutor] …. ‘Calling me a racist denigrates the people who are victims in this case.’”

Harvard lawprof Randy Kennedy had made this point in other contexts as well — since most crime is intraracial, seeing prosecutors or police being tough on black criminals (and the defendant in this case did indeed commit a crime) may simply mean that they’re trying to protect black victims. Conversely, an environment in which prosecutors are afraid to take a hard line against black criminals because of the fear of being assumed to be racist is an environment that’s not good for law-abiding blacks.

Gordo snarks at Volokh; I’m going to be more nuanced. Although Volokh suggests that prosecutors are trying to protect black victims, in fact the opposite is true: crimes against whites get longer sentences than crimes against blacks.

For example, when it comes to death penalty cases, Death Penalty Info cites studies showing that although black defendants do worse than white defendants given the same crime, the greatest bias is against people who kill whites. Blacks are 38% likelier than whites to be sentenced to death; people who kill white people are more than half again as likely to be sentenced to death in all death penalty states for which statistics are available except Nevada.

One study quoted by Death Penalty Info looks at data from the late 1970s from a few states, especially Illinois, Florida, and Georgia, and finds that in fact whites are actually likelier to be executed than blacks, but only because they tend to kill whites more.

When it comes to terms of imprisonment, there is more recent and more complete data that shows blacks receive longer sentences than whites in each crime category but fraud. In rape cases, the average sentence is 15 years and 11 months for blacks versus 14 years for whites. And a review of studies says that discrimination is worse in the decision to incarcerate than in the length of the prison sentence.

The same review quotes a study as saying that BOW sexual assaults are treated especially harshly, although the study’s abstract says this effect does not always hold (the full article is not available online). However, it appears that the main difference is between BOW cases and other cases; to use older data, if I recall correctly Against Our Will says that BOW rapes average a 15 year sentence while BOB, WOW, and WOB rapes average about 3-4 each.


Freeing the Tripoli Six

December 20, 2006

Lindsay’s take on the Tripoli Six has led to long-time commenter The Phantom quipping, “Maybe we can have as many comments on this as we’ve had on whether Judith Regan’s firing was justified or whatever other motherfucking bullshit is supposed to be important” (right now, the Regan thread is outcommenting the Tripoli Six one 28-7).

It seems that Libya’s main motivation is not necessarily covering up its hospitals’ sanitation problems, but extorting money from Bulgaria, which has a national dick size problem with paying.

The main problem is that it appears as if the Libyan people support the government here. Usually, the best way to undermine an authoritarian regime is to fund organizations that agitate for a peaceful democratic revolution, but such a revolution requires the regime to be deeply unpopular. The Phantom’s idea of punitive sanctions won’t delegitimize the regime enough, because it only emerged from ten years of sanctions in 2003. What works in Eastern Europe and will work in Iran won’t necessarily work in North Africa.


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